I vividly remember my 10th birthday, on June 7th, 1989. Mom got me a New York Mets jacket, one of those shiny, satin-like jackets that were popular back then. I proudly wore the jacket with my Mets hat on what was a rainy Wednesday. My mom got me a birthday cake, complete with a “1” and a “0” candle. I was thrilled that my age had finally reached double digits. Mom spoke in awe to her friends about being a mother for a decade.
It’s the last time I can remember being excited about my birthday.
For the first 10 years of my life, every June 7th, I felt different than I did any other day of the year. I was always very antsy in the days leading up to my birthday and felt a letdown after my day passed. I usually had to go to school on my birthday, so I got to spend an entire day being feted by classmates and teachers, followed by cake and gifts from my parents once I got home.
I know birthdays are more exciting for children than they are for adults but, nowadays, my birthday might as well be another day. Mind you, I’ve never been one of those people who laments that I’m closer to old age and death with each passing year. I don’t mind getting older and am proud of the fact that I’ve lived 33 years and I’m looking forward to being on this earth for as long as possible. I cherish every year that goes by and I try not to take growing older for granted. But, I’m not into much of the birthday fanfare. I’m not big on receiving presents and I don’t even want as much as a cake. The last birthday I remember having a cake for was my 21st; Mom got me an ice-cream cake and I was annoyed that she even bothered. I don’t even remember much about my 21st birthday, and it’s not because I got ridiculously drunk to celebrate the fact I could finally get ridiculously drunk legally. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I drank much at all for my 21st; I believe I went to dinner with a woman I was seeing at the time. At least that’s what I think I did. My 18th birthday is even less memorable – I have no recollection of it at all; I couldn’t tell you what I did or what gifts I got. I think it fell on a Saturday. The last time I had a party on my birthday, I was six – the party was held in my kindergarten class – but the lack of a party is my choice. People have offered to throw me birthday parties in the past, but I’m content with a quiet evening at home or with drinking craft beers in moderation at a no-frills bar.
My birthday apathy has grown over the last decade, which I’ve spent covering baseball. There is always a game on my birthday; this year was the first in which my birthday fell on an off-day. But, usually, I’m calling or covering a game somewhere. My 24th birthday was spent in Chillicothe, Ohio, where an evening calling a minor league baseball game was followed by a long wait for a much needed, late-night meal at an understaffed Steak ‘n Shake, the only restaurant in Chillicothe that was open at that late hour. Part of my 26th birthday involved me trying to convince the players on the team I was covering that I had no desire to sing karaoke in the first-floor bar of the Ramada Inn we were staying at in Altoona, Pennsylvania. They didn’t believe me and submitted a country song in my name anyway; fortunately, I’d left the bar by the time my name was called. Birthday #28 featured me calling a 14-inning, five-hour game in Trenton, New Jersey, followed by a four-hour bus ride overnight to Norwich, Connecticut, where we had a game the following evening. My 30th birthday came less than three months after I moved to Kansas City and, after covering a day game that Sunday, I spent the evening alone in my apartment, watching movies on my laptop.
My apathy reached new levels for my 31st birthday. I was in Binghamton, New York, where my girlfriend was preparing to deliver our daughter, who was scheduled to enter the world at any moment. Mom came to visit and handed me a card. At first, I wondered why Mom was giving me a card until I remembered that it was my birthday; I’d been so preoccupied with my child’s impending arrival, I’d forgotten what day it was. As it turned out, my daughter was in no hurry to emerge; labor was induced two days later and she was born June 10th. If she’d been born 18 minutes later, her birthday would’ve been June 11th; apparently my daughter was as nonplussed with her birthday as her dad is with his own.
Yesterday, my daughter turned two. My girlfriend baked her a cake with chocolate frosting and wrote our daughter’s name on it. My daughter was still finishing her spaghetti when I slipped quietly into the kitchen and lit the two candles my girlfriend had placed on the cake. I excitedly instructed my girlfriend to turn off the lights and to follow my lead. We started singing “Happy Birthday” as I carried the gray, metal pan holding the cake toward the dining room table. My daughter still doesn’t quite understand what it means to have a birthday, but she understood enough to smile. I tried to show her how to blow out the candles; I wound up blowing them out, of course, but she spent the next two minutes blowing on the cake. I carved a small slice from the lower left corner for my daughter, which she devoured quickly before asking for “more cake” and I was happy to oblige. I tried to explain to my daughter that she’s now two years old, holding up two fingers; she would repeat “two” but stared at her fingers quizzically. After finishing her second slice of cake and getting chocolate frosting all over her face, my daughter spent the rest of the evening quietly singing “Happy birthday to you” to herself.
It was the most delightful birthday I’ve ever experienced.Follow @raford3